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Press Release: AB 410(Equal Access to Public Information for the Blind) Passes the Assembly Business and Professions Committee

From the Office of Assemblyman Sandre Swanson
Tuesday April 26, 2011 - 04:33:00 PM

Today, the Equal Access to Public Information for the Blind Act passed the Assembly Business and Professions Committee with a unanimous vote. “Blind and visually impaired people have a right to the same information that state agencies are required to provide to the rest of the public,” explained author Assemblymember Sandré R. Swanson (D-Alameda). “AB 410 codifies fundamental democratic principles of equal access and public notice by requiring state agencies to provide regulations in a format that is accessible to the blind and visually impaired.” 

Current state law, the Administrative Procedures Act, requires each state agency to make proposed regulations available to the public, giving them an opportunity to participate in the process by providing input before a regulation goes into effect. “This transparent process of regulation review and development is central to public participation in state government,” Swanson explained. “Sadly, the blind and visually impaired are unable to participate in this process because the reading software they use is not equipped to interpret the formatted text state agencies are currently using,” said Swanson. 

Assemblymember Swanson’s office worked closely with the bill’s sponsor, the California Council of the Blind, to develop a regulation format that can be accurately interpreted by reading software. The narrative description required by AB 410 is a straight-forward explanation of the regulation, without any strikeouts, italicization, or other stylized text that is unreadable by the software used by the blind. 

Jeff Thom, Chairperson of Governmental Affairs with the California Council of the Blind, emphasized how the narrative description required by AB 410 will give blind persons equal access to the governmental process. “AB 410 will empower persons who are blind or who have low vision to have the same ability as their sighted counterparts to work with state agencies in implementing the laws of California.” 

Unlike Swanson’s AB 1787 of last year, which required state agencies to translate every regulation into a narrative description format, AB 410’s requirements are only triggered when a blind or visually impaired person requests the narrative format. Frank Welte, the Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for the California Council of the Blind, worked closely with Swanson’s staff to craft both versions of the bill and is confident that the more measured approach of AB 410 is a sensible and fair solution. Welte testified to the Assembly Business and Professions Committee today. “AB 410 takes a fiscally responsible approach to providing Californians who are blind or visually impaired greater access to state regulatory information.” 

Swanson concluded, “I am confident that state agencies want to do the right thing. We all want the blind and visually impaired to have access to public information. This bill gives state agencies some practical guidance on how to make that happen.” 

AB 410 now moves to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations.